Any Day by Brian Lancaster
General Release Date: 5th October 2021
Word Count: 101,106
Book Length: SUPER PLUS NOVEL
Successful businessman Leonard Day’s life revolves around his work until a call from his mother summons him back to his family home in Drayton, Norwich. His father has died.
With a past he would rather forget, builder Adrian Lamperton prefers to live alone. But when Lenny Day arrives in town, feelings of attraction resurface.
Leonard learns he has inherited a Welsh farmhouse, something nobody knew about, and employs Adrian to help inspect the property. But tragedy and mystery surround the house and very soon they start to unearth things that others would prefer remain buried.
Reader advisory: This book contains references to suicide, attempted murder and religious bigotry. There are mentions of drug use, prostitution, child abuse and abandonment, and homophobia.
Sunday morning, Leonard Day lowered himself into the plush black leather chair at his sixteenth-floor office desk. Still wearing his warm grey tracksuit and saffron Bluetooth headphones, he sank back into the soft padding, pressed a button to boot up his laptop, then placed his phone and car keys alongside the mouse mat designed to resemble a Persian rug.
Issuing a bark of laughter only he could hear, he ripped off the two fluorescent-pink Post-it notes, one stuck in the middle of each of his monitors. Both carried warnings in vivid purple felt-penmanship—one to ‘Go Home!’ and the other to ‘Get @ Life!’ Shaking his head but still grinning at being caught out again, he dropped the notes into his wire wastebasket as his gaze trailed to the day outside the room.
Framed by the tinted office windows, a beautiful spring morning had woken to life. Sunlight glistened off the rain-slick roofs of regimented rows of South London terraced houses. From a music app playlist on his smartphone, the opening strains of Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 5 in D major provided the perfect soundtrack to the tranquil morn.
Naive perhaps, but he used to think none of his staff knew about his habit of slipping into the office on Sunday mornings. He went there not so much to check figures and plan the week, but to avoid being at home on what had once been his favourite day of the week. The easiest way to change a habit is to create a new and better one, his late Qigong teacher had once advised. So after performing a regular morning routine of gentle moves and stretching exercises in the back garden and after locking up the house, Leonard escaped to his office, the perfect distraction and a familiar sanctuary in his otherwise solitary world. And his team were none the wiser.
Until the day Kieran had rumbled him.
His young, energetic marketing manager, who had impeccable attention to detail, had caught Leonard out a few months ago. Kieran—dropped off at the office each weekday morning before anyone else arrived—had noticed reports on Leonard’s desk on Monday morning, ones that hadn’t been there the previous Friday because Leonard had been travelling. Confronted, Leonard had confessed but had tried to fob off the action as a one-off urgent business need. Kieran hadn’t bought the excuse, and, like the Post-it warnings this morning, he often booby-trapped Leonard’s desk. ‘If you insist on everyone having a work–life balance,’ Kieran had stated aloud at a staff meeting, ‘then you should set an example and live by your words.’
Had Leonard listened to the office designer’s recommendations, he would now have a lockable corner office. But ever since taking the floor space, Leonard had insisted on open-plan for everyone, the only enclosed spaces being a fish tank—glass conference room—at either end of the office. Leonard’s desk sat in the middle of the open space, the same size as everyone else’s, surrounded by a team he considered his surrogate family. And he loved being in the thick of things. None of his team just worked for him. They contributed, not one of them complaining about extra effort when business ramped up, not one having anything but positive things to say about their working environment. Leonard preached work–life balance—even if he didn’t exactly live by his own ethos—and made sure nobody stayed beyond five-thirty every day unless absolutely necessary. And every Friday, to show his gratitude, he either prearranged snacks and drinks in the office from four-thirty if he happened to be away or took them to a local wine bar. In the office, at least, Leonard found smiling effortless.
But Kieran didn’t miss a trick. On his day off, he’d brought his Cockapoo canine rescue called Ed into the office—a fiery red bundle of havoc—and had tried to persuade an amused Leonard to get a pet dog himself. Leonard blamed his schedule, which meant him being regularly away from home, travelling to various parts of the country for a week or more, assessing listed buildings or attending antique shows or car auctions. Kieran hadn’t bought the excuse.
‘Sorry, Len,’ he’d said one Friday evening as the whole team had gathered around a wine bar table for drinks. ‘But I’m calling bullshit for three very distinct reasons. First off, you can employ a dog sitter for when you’re travelling. I can even provide names. Second, did you or did you not employ Izzy here as your assistant director for the sole purpose of reducing your workload?’
Only Kieran dared challenge him publicly this way, always in a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek manner. He’d wanted intelligent, creative, personable Kieran as his number two. But when Kieran and his husband Kennedy had added twin boys to their family unit, many of their priorities had changed.
‘You already know the answer to that.’
‘Then let her. She’s more than capable of hunting out grubby antiques around the country, or looking over run-down, borderline derelict properties.’
Isabelle had sat smiling down at her glass of Merlot and said nothing.
‘Remind Kieran again what they’re called, will you please, Isabelle?’
‘Listed buildings,’ Isabelle had said, laughing along with the rest of the team.
‘We call them listed buildings, Kieran. But thank you for your advice. Your point has been made and will be taken into consideration.’
‘Then I rest my case,’ said Kieran, folding his arms and sitting back.
‘Hang on, you said three reasons.’
‘Ah, yes. Thirdly—and most importantly—Ed needs a playmate.’
‘Of course he does. Let me think about it.’
Leonard raised his gaze to Kieran’s haphazard workspace and smirked. The monitor had been plastered randomly with an assortment of colourful Post-it reminders in his distinctive handwriting while trade magazines lay open across the keyboard. Pride of place on his desk sat a large, framed photo of him, his husband and their kids. Another showed their cheeky-faced mutt with what looked like a television remote control in his mouth. Thirty-two years old and Kieran had surrounded himself with so much love. The quiet young man Leonard had first encountered on a cruise ship had blossomed into a doting husband and father. Leonard turned forty-seven in May, and what did he have? A handful of successful businesses, but there it ended. At home? Not even a goldfish. Then again, perhaps he’d already had his time in the light.
The real reason Leonard had not followed through on the dog plan was because he didn’t share Kieran’s affinity for pets. During his childhood he’d broached the subject once only—he must have been seven or eight at the time—and both parents had stated their disgust at domestic animals, dismissing them as unruly and unhygienic. There the conversation had ended. Both accomplished scientists—microbiologists—they’d lived in a simple semi-detached a few miles away from the university campus. Work had been their lives. His father specialised in mycology, the study of mushrooms, toadstools and other fungi, and particularly how various species can kill or cure. At the same time, his mother, more interested in classification, had concentrated her efforts on microbial taxonomy—the naming and classification of micro-organisms. As couples went, they could not have been a more perfect match.
For a few seconds, he stared at his Cisco desk phone, toying with the idea of ringing them. Usually the call entailed dull generalities and awkward silences, neither party having much of any interest to share. Both parents had retired from university life. Heaven only knew what they talked about at home.
Being an only child, Leonard wondered if he had been an experiment rather than a child born of intimacy. Neither parent had demonstrated the kind of tactile warmth or fondness he had witnessed in other families. Not that his were uncaring or cruel in any way. Nutrition and learning had been equally valued in their house. As academics, they had encouraged his studies, praising him for good grades while trying hard to mask their disappointment when he failed at any subject related to the pure sciences. Their frustration had been mitigated when he’d excelled at mathematics, social sciences and, in particular, business studies.
After a quick check of message headings in his inbox, most of which he had already opened and drafted replies to—he never sent his team emails over the weekend—he returned to the one containing attachments sent by his finance officer. Spreadsheets often proved too long and detailed to open on his home laptop but displayed adequately on his two monitors. End-of-month figures popped up on his screens, much as Leonard had expected except for the incredible numbers on their latest venture, the online auction. Between the two of them, Isabelle and Kieran had come up with the idea as an extension of their antiques and artisans site. Traffic had increased tenfold, but more importantly, sales in both had skyrocketed. He folded his arms, sat back in his chair and allowed himself a private moment to gloat.
Fortunately for him, a single-minded determination to focus in the field of business management had allowed him to study for his undergraduate degree in Bournemouth, far enough away that his parents only deemed the occasional visit home necessary. When the time had come to leave at the age of nineteen, he had been able to fend for himself, had learnt to appreciate his own company. A more challenging lesson had been in realising he had developed a singular attractiveness in his late teens. One female college student had referred to him as the sexy lone wolf, but despite getting plenty of offers from girls, his heart hungered only for other boys.
After scanning other columns of figures, and satisfied all of them headed in the right direction, he checked the time on his phone—ten o’clock. An hour before he needed to set off for the hotel in York to spend two days in business meetings and viewing potential properties around the area. Far enough from home he might even try for a random hook-up using the app he had recently discovered and downloaded. Kieran had been right about one thing. At some point, he needed to get himself a life.
Although made in jest, a quip about him by a male friend on a cruise holiday still stung. Thinking Leonard to be out of earshot, someone had asked this friend why he’d nicknamed Leonard ‘Any Day’. He had replied, ‘Because any day is better than Lenny Day. The man is a walking misery.’ Overhearing this, he had been shocked to the core. When had he changed from being a sexy lone wolf to a ‘walking misery’? Naturally Kennedy had stepped in to defend him even though, in fairness, the friend had less-than-respectful names for all of their acquaintances. The main problem? Leonard had sensed the truth behind the quip. Maybe he needed to make more of an effort to be cheerful outside of his day-to-day.
As he closed down programs on his laptop and pulled off his earphones, he raised his head and froze, his attention drawn to a distant sound.
Barely audible beyond the building’s thick glazing, somewhere out there in the suburbs, cutting through the constant hum of traffic, came the peal of church bells. For as long as comfortably possible, he held his breath, squeezing his eyes shut and absorbing the simple melody.
Church bells, like Sunday mornings at home, reminded him of Kris. And without warning or witness, he was overcome by the kind of immobilising grief that he had hoped would have receded after the death of his lover ten years ago. He rarely allowed himself to wallow in thoughts of their time together, but the memory blindsided him and filled him with such warmth and love and togetherness. And when those tender recollections inevitably melted away they would leave him emotionally desolate, standing alone in the stark coldness of reality. But for now he would allow himself to listen to the bells, and wallow and remember…
Until the shrill ring of his desk phone drowned out everything.
For a moment, he sat there, appalled at the intrusion, glaring at the device, deciding whether or not to answer. Eventually, after several rings, he relented.
“Days-Gone-By Enterprises,” he answered gruffly, ripping a tissue from a box on his desk and dabbing at his eyes.
“Leonard,” came his mother’s stern voice. Although no explanation had been forthcoming, she no longer called his mobile phone. “I tried you at your house but you weren’t answering. You need to come home. Your father passed this morning, and I need your help arranging things. When can you be here?”
“What?” said Leonard, caught off guard. “Oh, God, Mum. Dad died? I’m so sorry. What happened?”
“Not now. When can you be home?”
“I—I can come now.” He had a case in his car for the business trip. By some stroke of fate he had even packed his black Hugo Boss suit for meetings. With a few clicks of his phone he could cancel the York trip. “I suppose I could be there around three or four. Traffic willing.”
“I’ll get your room ready.”
Before he had a chance to probe any further, she ended the call.
Annoyance bubbled in him. Most of the time he accepted his mother’s natural candour, and admired her ability to view and deal with the world dispassionately. Right now, he wished he had a parent who could be sensitive to the emotions a son might be feeling at the passing of the only father he would ever have. Perhaps she knew without asking that he considered grief an old friend.
As he left the office, he did something he hated and called Isabelle on her day off to hand over the reins for the week ahead. At home, his own house, everything would be fine.
Striding across the empty car park, Kieran’s words came back to him and cemented inside. He needed to find a life. At the moment, he seemed to be surrounded by too much death.
About the Author
Brian Lancaster is an author of gay romantic fiction in multiple genres, including contemporary romance, paranormal, fantasy, crime, mystery, and anything else that tickles his muse’s fancy. Born in the sleepy South of England where most of his stories are set, he moved to Southeast Asia in 1998, where he now shares a home with his husband and two of the laziest cats on the planet.
Find out more about Brian at his website.
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